I just brought my dog home, what should I do first?

I love when I get a call from someone that has adopted a dog and they want to establish a good foundation and good relationship with them from the start. Even though the dog may have had a rough start in life, once you adopt them, they will begin a new life with you from the moment you bring them home.   This advice also applies to a puppy you bring home from the breeder as well.

My first piece of advice is to leave their past behind. Don’t feel sorry for them or make excuses for their behavior. Dogs need a strong, confident and emotionally balanced leader. Think about yourself-would you rather work for a boss or be in a classroom with a teacher that explains and outlines your job duties or assignments or for someone that is inconsistent with their expectations?

My second piece of advice is to give the dog a consistent schedule that includes regular feeding times, walking, training, playing and resting. I know personally that I feel better if I eat regular meals throughout the day, set aside time for exercise, get enough sleep and have the chance to be mentally stimulated myself. Your dogs feel the same way, especially adopted dogs. If you can provide them with a consistent schedule, they will be able to know and follow the expectations. Dogs don’t want to be the leader but require someone that will provide them with clear, fair and consistent expectations and hold them accountable if they don’t follow the rules.

My third piece of advice is to remember that your dog is always learning whether you are training or not. Not enforcing commands or not making your dog do something because “he doesn’t want to” only enforces to your dog that he doesn’t need to follow your instructions. Ideally this training will be positive and set up in small steps so you can help your dog to succeed. There are many ways to teach commands so you may just need to find a language to learn how to communicate with your dog.

My last piece of advice is to set high expectations for your dog. Imagine taking them on therapy visits, going on family vacations, competing in obedience, rally or agility competitions and of course relaxing with them in your backyard. Just because you have a rescue doesn’t mean you can’t set high goals and expectations for them.

These images are real but they will take time, patience, praise, hard work and consistency. I want owners to have a dog that loves and respects them but you need to remember that respect has to be earned. Your dog may like you but may not respect you if you don’t enforce rules and boundaries and you are not consistent with your expectations. When I look back on employers and teachers, the ones that I appreciated the most had high expectations and challenged me. I respected them and really wanted to do well in their classes and in my jobs. As a dog owner, you need to project confidence and show your dog that they can do it.

Your job as their owner and leader is to make sure the needs of your dogs are fulfilled – are they mentally satisfied? Are they getting enough exercise? Do they know basic obedience commands? Are they balanced? Are you calm and confident? Think about this…. Are you a leader that you would follow?